Climate change hot topic: State holds meetings to get public input

DNREC staff study a 2017 coastal inundation map at Thursday’s presentation on climate change at Delaware Technical Community College. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

GEORGETOWN — As climate change heats up concern worldwide, the state is taking the issue to the streets — and its people.

The topic of climate change, its causes, concerns, impact and solutions, drew an estimated 150 people to two meetings held downstate last week to offer their input on the threat and the state’s plans to adapt policy to prepare for it.

“You are here likely because you know that climate change is changing our way of life, disrupting our way of life here in the state of Delaware, and our economy,” said Susan Love, principal planner for the Division of Climate, Coastal and Energy.

“Whether you live here in Georgetown or anywhere in Sussex, or Dover or Middletown or Newark or Wilmington, climate change will affect you.”

About 90 people attended Tuesday’s workshop at the CHEER Community Center in Georgtown, where DNREC’s Division of Climate, Coastal and Energy held its first of three public workshops. On Thursday, about 60 people gathered at the Delaware Technical Community College Terry campus in Dover, meeting with approximately 12 DNREC staff members tasked with delivering information and gathering reaction.

The day before, about 115 participants arrived at the Wilmington Public Library to learn more and express their concerns.

DNREC plans to complete a five-year Delaware Climate Action plan by December after holding additional workshops scheduled for June and in the fall.

A chief goal is to establish strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mostly from carbon dioxide, which traps heat around the earth) by just more than 26 percent, said Ms. Love.

“We’ll begin acting on the plan just as soon as we can in January,” she said at the meeting in Dover.

The workshops are the start of public interaction in creating the plan, which will review what’s being done in Delaware to reduce the impacts of climate change that the state already is experiencing, such as sea level rise and increased flooding in some areas, and to provide a comprehensive “road map” of steps to help mitigate those impacts.

In regard to climate change, an audience interactive survey conducted at the Georgetown event revealed the majority of the approximate 70 participants indicated they:

• Understand or somewhat understand the underlying causes;

• Feel they are very much impacted personally;

• See vehicles as the top contributor of greenhouse gas emissions;

• Are somewhat prepared as an individual/family for climate change.

These results mirrored somewhat those from a study supervised by the University of Delaware and conducted in late 2019 by Standage Market Research, that showed most Delawareans believe climate change and sea-level rise are happening and the state should act now to address both issues.

Ms. Love said global warming is evident in the eastern U.S. The average temperature, she said, is expected to increase two to four degrees by 2050. And by 2050, the sea level is forecast to increase between nine and 23 inches, she said.

Heading to ‘Delantis’?

The sea level rise isn’t lost on the younger generation — at Thursday’s Dover event, a kid answered the question “What will Delaware look like in 10 years?” The child drew a large map of Delaware with Atlantic Ocean water covering it entirely with the words:
“Delaware + water = Delantis.”

“We’re seeing increased temperatures here in the state, in the country and around the globe. January was the warmest month on record. The last decade was the warmest decade on record locally,” said Ms. Love. “As many of you know, climate change is driven by humans and primarily the emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly by burning of fossil fuels.

“In Delaware the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions is our transportation. The other main source of greenhouse gas emissions are industrial emissions and power generation. Power generation emissions have come down quite a bit, because of switching from coal to natural gas, and the explosion of alternative energy resources.”

Felton’s John Baker said, “Hurricanes are getting meaner and we’re seeing flooding in places where we’ve never seen it before. I have two children, six grandchildren and one great grandchild and I want to see them live in a good world, the one I grew up in.”

Rising sea level and related inland flooding is of great concern for Angola resident Eul Lee, who says Sussex County in turn needs to do a better job in addressing development and growth.

Nan Zamorski places a suggestion in the “new idea” column during a breakout session at DNREC’s March 3 workshop on climate change. Looking are Ted Spickler, Valerie Wood and Eul Lee. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

“To me the most concerning is the sea level rising,” she said. “What I see is that houses are going up very close to the water, anywhere there is water access, anywhere you can see the water.

“The land price is very high, and landowners and the developers want to cash in. When the buyers see those houses on a sunny, nice day they have no idea where their house is going to be until the next nor’easter or the flood, storm, whatever the natural condition that may be.”

Ms. Lee said she’s concerned about the volume of houses built near wetlands areas and the trouble that could bring for Delaware in the future.

“It’s not just the homeowners. It’s not just the FEMA. But Delaware will have to pitch in to help shore them up,” she said. “It is concerning because even the state planning department says certain areas should not be developed because they are on hydric soil, which is soggy the whole year round. The planning and zoning (commission) just approves them. They don’t care.”

Flooding near the coast

Selbyville resident Jeanette Akhter, who lives several miles from Fenwick Island, sees flooding as a major priority.

“We live not far from the coast and we live very near a creek, Dirickson Creek. There are several communities that were built perhaps back in the ’60s right along the creek that are essentially carved out of wetlands. They never should have been built in the first place. But they are there. Even now, and certainly in Superstorm Sandy and frequently in nor’easters, those places flood. It is already happening. We expect it to happen more,” said Ms. Akhter. “We are looking for ways that we can make that as little an effect as possible.”

She noted the rapid development taking place, bringing a loss of trees and increased impervious surfaces as contributing factors.

“We are trying very hard to see how we can encourage our planning and zoning commission and our county council to take these comments and requirements into account when they are making determination about whether to approve building projects or not. We find that there is a serious disconnect between the recommendations of DNREC and the state level and what happens with local land use decisions,” Ms. Akhter said.

Gordon Simmons, interim pastor at St. Andrews’ Lutheran Church in Dover, rode his bicycle 10 miles to attend Thursday’s event. He’s also the Lutheran Church’s Delaware-Maryland public policy officer.

“We as Lutherans are especially interested in climate change because we read the bible,” he said while reviewing materials provided at the DNREC session.

“Genesis 1 said God created the earth, so it’s up to us to protect it. As a church, we encourage the use of renewable energy and believe there should be more use of wind and solar energy on this earth we live on.”

Investigating development

Millsboro resident Valerie Wood says she did some homework on development in preparation for the state’s workshops.

“I’ve been on the PLUS (Preliminary Land Use Service) website and I’ve been looking at applications and they are all very close to river waterways, which is inundated in Sussex County,” said Ms. Wood, noting there are “A” designated lands where the state “highly recommends that nobody builds on them because they are hydric soils. And there are developers building on the ‘A’ designated land, and I don’t think the council or planning and zoning understand the designations.”

Development, Ms. Love notes, can be a two-way street.

“When we look at land use through a lens of climate change we look at both adaptation, which is responding to the effects that we know are happening like sea level rise, like increased precipitation events, and we also look at opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ms. Love. “The land use example is a really good example of that … dense development. What it can do, though, if it is done correctly and put in the right place, is it can reduce our reliance on vehicles to travel for goods and services. Land use is the responsibility of local government and the state plays a cooperating role in that.

Lisa Locke, executive director at Delaware Interfaith Power & Light that is canvassing public awareness of climate change, checks out responses at the public input workshop on climate change hosted by DNREC’s Division of Climate, Coastal and Energy. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

“One of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in Delaware and in the nation and increasingly across the globe is transportation. So, we can address climate change in part by looking at land use practices and making sure that we can build communities and revive communities where you can bike and walk to services, like everybody did in the ’50s, and everybody walked to school. We don’t do that so much anymore, and that is contributing to the problems that we are seeing.”

Delaware Technical Community College student Liam Bernat attended the Dover gathering as part of his Energy Management class.
“I feel that there isn’t one single person who can make much of a difference, so we need more government actions and regulations to improve the climate we live in,” he said.

Lisa Locke of Rehoboth Beach facilitated a grass-roots effort of interaction through Interfaith Power & Light, an initiative launched July 1, 2019.

“We are one of 40 state affiliates and our shared mission is to address the causes and consequences of climate change. We do that through faith communities and community partners. We are very excited. We do it in all kinds of ways, from energy audits to working with green teams, educating people,” said Ms. Locke. “We have a cool program called ‘Climate Conversations.’ It is funded by Energize Delaware; they are the ones that manage the energy money that comes into the state and then turns it into programs.”

‘Momentum building’

Since its inception, Interfaith Power & Light has held 17 events, reaching 500 people. The effort has extended to DelTech, Delaware State University and the University of Delaware.

“There is momentum building,” said Ms. Locke. “We’re facilitating opportunities for people to get together in libraries, classrooms, faith communities and community centers to talk candidly and respectfully about climate change. It has been a remarkable experience.
“We get bombarded with news every day, so it is easy to get paralyzed. We find that by bringing people together and talking to each other they can feel empowered. They can get inspired. They can get new ideas, understanding like here tonight that this is kind of where it has to start. We’re talking in intimate ways, creatively, respectfully about what our observations are, what are concerns are what our confusions are, and working on solutions. Even when people don’t agree with each other we have a lot of areas where we do agree.”

In the grand scheme, Ms. Love said DNREC’s goals are to provide an opportunity to understand the impact of climate, encourage engagement from the public and “most importantly we want you to share your concerns and ideas with how we should move forward.

“This plan builds on more than a decade worth of work on climate resilience and adaptation. We are also going to add to it strategies we can take to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions …

“This is the first opportunity we have had to interact with members of the public about a comprehensive climate action plan in Delaware. We really want this to be driven by public concerns and public ideas. This is going to be a plan that doesn’t sit on the shelf. We want to implement the plan. And one of the best ways to implement a plan is to make sure it has buy-in and support from a broad coalition of people. This is really just an opening for us to understand what folks think, what their concerns are, what their ideas are so that we can craft a plan that can prioritize those ideas, thoughts and concerns.”